The White Morning by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Mrs. Prentiss and Mrs. Tolby placed a large sum of money to Gisela's account in a Swiss bank, and this she transferred to the Bayerischer Vereinsbank in Munich. As she had collected large sums for war relief, and was on the board of nine war charities, no suspicion was excited. She had given to these organizations the greater part of the small fortune she had made from her play and other writings, not absorbed by taxation and bond subscriptions, but there were many wealthy women, hungry, sad, apprehensive that peace would find them paupers, upon whom she could depend to give liberally.
There was to be no printed matter nor correspondence, but an army of lieutenants, who, starting from certain centers, would augment their numbers from Gisela's long list of correspondents, until it would be possible to sound personally all the women of a district whom it was thought wise to trust.
Gisela returned to Germany as soon as she had worked out the details of her campaign and received the enthusiastic donation of her American friends. Mimi Brandt, Marie von Erkel (who looked like an ecstatic fury of the French Revolution when she realized that at last she had a role to play in life that would not only vent her consuming energies and ambition, but enable her to assist in the downfall of a race of men whom she hated, both for their tyranny and indifference to brains without beauty, with all the diverted passion of her nature), Aimee von Erkel, who was persistent, incisive, and so alarmed at the prospect of all the men in the world being killed, that she would have hastened peace on any terms; Princess Starnwoerth, a Socialist and idealist, a brilliant and persuasive speaker, to whom war was the ultimate horror; Johanna Stueck, whose revolt had been deep and bitter long before the war and who was one of Gisela's fervent disciples and aides--these and six others were sent on one pretense or another into the various States of Germany--the kingdoms, principalities, grand duchies, duchies, and "free towns"--to bear Gisela's personal message and select the proper leaders.
Gisela went at once to Berlin and had a long interview with Mariette, who was ripe for revolution: her lover had been killed and her husband had not. Mariette was not of the type that sorrow and loss ennoble. She was still a handsome woman, particularly in her uniform, but the pink and white cheeks that once had covered her harsh bones were sunken and sallow. Her mouth was like a narrow bar of iron. Her eyes were half closed as if to hide the cold and deadly flame that never flickered; even her nostrils were rigid. All her hard and sensual nature, devoid of tenderness, but dissolved with sentimentality while the man who had conquered her had lived, she had centered on her lover, and with his death she was a tool to Gisela's hand to wreak vengeance upon the powers that had sent him out of the world.
"Leave it to me," she said grimly. "There are not only the women in the towns where I have been stationed these many years, but, here in Berlin, the wives of men whose money is financing this war: men who permitted the war because they hoped for infinite riches but are now terrified that they will not have a pfennig if the war goes on much longer. They dare not rebel, for they would be shot, and their fortunes be confiscated: their banks, industries, shops, run by cowed minor officials. But the women--I can count on many of them. Even if their husbands suspected, they would wink at it, willing that the women should take the risk and they reap the benefit. God! How they hate the war--every woman I know. Leave this part of Germany to me, and be prepared for Schrecklichkeit. There will be no mercy, no politics, in this revolution--merely one end in view. The Russians are babies but we are not. 'Huns' shall cease to be a term of opprobrium, for female Huns will end the war."
Countess Niebuhr, whose love of intrigue had not diminished with the years, and who had known more of the Pan-Germanic mind than her naive husband had guessed--who, moreover, had had a long and enlightening interview with one of her sons but a month before--undertook to win over many women of her own class who had suffered death and disillusion.
Elsa's transfer to a hospital in Saxony was skilfully managed; and Lili went on a concert tour for the Red Cross. It was not worth while to campaign in Austria; the moment Germany was helpless she would collapse automatically.
In the course of a month the secret propaganda was moving with the invisible, sinister, irresistible suction of an undertow. The immense army of women who did Gisela's work proved themselves true Germans, logical products of generations of discipline, concentration, secretiveness, and a thoroughness, even in trifling details, as implacable as it was automatic. They made few mistakes. When they discovered--and their spy service was also Teutonic--that they had confided in some girl or woman whose inherent weakness or venality threatened betrayal, she disappeared immediately and for ever.
Gisela, obtaining a commission to inspect the leading hospitals "back of the front," visited each of the states in turn and addressed thousands of women in groups of two or three hundred, gathered under the eyes of the police in the name of one of the many war charities in which all women were engaged. The lieutenants prepared these women, and Gisela inspired, crystallized, cohered. The timid she shamed with the example of the Russian women (and German women despise all other women); the desperate she had little difficulty in convincing that there was but one egress from their insupportable agony. Victory under her leadership if they stood firm, was inevitable.
She had the gift of a fiery torrent of speech, a clear steady eye, even when it flashed and blazed, and a warm and irresistible magnetism that convinced the individual as well as the mass that she had but one object, the liberation of the miserable women of her country, their deliverance from further sorrow; and that she was wholly lacking in personal ambition.
These women had known the gnawing sensation of unappeased appetite for two years. They had seen old men and women, sometimes their own, fall in the streets dead or dying, because they no longer had the reserves of men and women in their youth or prime. They had seen men blow out their brains in front of municipal buildings, cursing the Emperor, the military autocracy, and even the Government, always at odds with the war lords. They knew of suicides and child murder by despairing mothers that they hardly whispered to one another. And all the children were emaciated and wailed continually for food, sleeping little, playing less, stunted in their growth and threatened with disease; if the war went on another year they would join the little Polish victims on their shadowy playground.... They feared for their daughters at home even as they feared for their young sons in the trenches.... Barring a revolution, the war might last for years ... years.... "Peace Proposals" irritated what little humor they had left to ghastly obscene joking.... "Victories" left them as cold as the mid-winter bed.... The Hohenzollerns, the other kings and princes, the cast-iron junkers, would cling fast to their own until the Enemy Allies' day of judgment, for surrender meant their quicker extermination; now, at least, they were still in the saddle, able to cheer their haunted egos with the Wine of Lies.
It was the Hohenzollerns and defeat, or a Republic and easy terms from the victors who would welcome a sound de-brutalized Germany, jealous of her lost honor, into the family of nations. The arguments were brief and simple. Gisela would have won over women far less despairing than these. And the fact that she had spent four years in America studying its institutions and resources, convinced the most susceptible to official lies that the United States could pour money, men, ammunition, munitions and food into Europe for countless years; and that the agitations of her pacifists, syndicalists, German agents, and bribe-takers were but picturesque ripples on the surface of a nation covering over three million five hundred thousand square miles and embracing more than one hundred million people.
And with all the insidious subtlety of her supple mind she changed the prevailing hatred of President Wilson into a profound and pathetic confidence. She had long since made them envy and admire the women of America, and if these fortunate beings had enthusiastically reelected him and were now giving his policy as persistent and effective assistance as the men, it was for the desperate women of Germany to believe in his promises of deliverance. Above all he had now the approval of their own Gisela Doering.
It was the mothers of Germany, balked, potential, or veritable, who were ready to rise and rescue what was left of the youth of Germany. If victory for the German arms were hopeless they would risk their own lives to force a peace that would leave them with the rags of their old honor and prosperity, that would give them revenge upon the men who had, for their own criminal ambitions--ambitions which belonged to the Middle Ages--doomed them to lifelong sorrow; and that would save the lives of their children--save husbands also for a few of these stern and weary girls. Even in the Rhine Valley, where the greater number of the munition and ammunition factories were grouped, there were incessant meetings, among the night and day shifts, of the thousands of women employed there, and Gisela herself addressed each of them.